Monday, May 20

Columbia canceling graduation ceremony shows ‘inmates are running the asylum’: students

Several Columbia University students spoke out to Fox News Digital on Monday after administrators announced they would be canceling the school’s main commencement ceremony. Security concerns in the wake of raucous anti-Israel protests were top of mind in making the decision, a university official told Fox News.

One graduating senior, who also testified before the House Education & Workforce Committee about the antisemitic agitators, said she did so in order to give voice to those in the community who all have the same concerns as well as a way to urge Columbia administrators to act.

“I think that [Columbia] has the potential to be the amazing institution that I know that it is,” Yola Ashkenazie told Fox News Digital.

Ashkenazie said she was disappointed that the main commencement ceremony was canceled, saying graduation festivities are as much for the students as they are for the parents and families who work hard to ensure their children can attend a venerated institution like Columbia.

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“So, it’s really sad that we don’t get to properly mark this moment with them and with all of our friends across all the different schools,” she said.

Ashkenazie said administrators had at first acted like the anti-Israel protests were peaceful demonstrations, but she added that if that were true, she still would be attending graduation.

“[W]hy would they cancel commencement if they thought that they were entirely peaceful? It doesn’t really make sense. And the administration can’t keep their story straight.”

Ashkenazie also told Fox News she had been affected by antisemitic sentiment on campus long before the protests began in April.

“So, I have been vocal [in] speaking out against antisemitism on campus since Oct. 7th, and the students sort of pegged me as that,” she said.

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“So a couple of months ago, a cyberbullying Instagram account posted a photo of me holding Israeli flags, and that caused students to post horrible things about me on anonymous campus forums. I had people there, even an instance in which someone came up to me in the middle of campus and confronted me about my support for Israel. So yeah, it’s been an incredibly, incredibly frightening couple of months on campus.”

Sophomore Elisha Baker isn’t graduating this year, but he told Fox News Digital the ceremony’s cancelation still affected him.

“Here’s the thing about commencement. This movement that has been on campus has been advocating to ‘shut it down’ and to cancel joy. And by canceling commencement, it seems that the university has caved to both of those demands and basically allowed the mob to win,” he said.

“And to me, that’s really sad. And my heart goes out to the seniors who lost high school graduation due to COVID, lost freshman year of college to COVID and now lost their senior springs and their graduations to a violent mob,” he said.

Baker said he watched protesters unfurl a 20-foot pro-intifada banner from a major academic building in the wee hours of one recent morning.

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“To me, that was just really sad – really shocking; violent and totally emblematic of exactly what this movement has been calling for this entire time, which is violence against Jews, which is a prolonged state of war rather than peace,” said Baker, who is Jewish.

He told Fox News Digital that Jewish students have been subjected to hate speech and violence since the protests began.

One of Baker’s friends had an Israeli flag ripped out of his hands by protesters, who purportedly tried to set it ablaze and later pelted him with projectiles.

“That’s full-blown assault inside the campus gates,” Baker said.

When asked about the prospect of not returning to campus because of the protests, Baker said the decision is difficult because to stay away might appear as “let[ting] the bully win.”

“So, to me, to leave campus right now as a Jewish student is almost to give in to the mob. And yes, we have to be concerned for our safety. But also, there’s something about staying and about making very clear that these people can say, ‘We don’t want no Zionists here.’ But guess what? We’re still here. And you cannot bully Jewish students off of this campus.”

“It’s up to the university to decide if wearing a kippah and a hostage dog tag … if that’s going to make me a target or if I’m safe here. Right. Because I deserve to be safe here.”

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Meanwhile, Columbia junior Eden Yadegar told Fox News Digital the cancellation of commencement proves “the inmates are running the asylum.”

“Columbia has completely abdicated leadership to a mob that is a small but rageful and vocal minority. And it’s really unfortunate that now, as a result, all students … are now having to face the consequences that this mob kind of forced everyone else to deal with and also that the Columbia administration put everyone in a situation to deal with,” she said.

Yadegar said the school drew multiple proverbial “red lines” but then did not enforce the promised repercussions.

“And so it’s no wonder that students think there are no consequences for their actions and think that they can get away with wreaking havoc on campus and doing essentially whatever they want.”

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Another Columbia student, Batya Tropper, told Fox News Digital that although she appreciates much of what Columbia has offered her during her academic career, she now finds it harder to encourage fellow Jewish students to attend college there.

“I cannot guarantee that this will be a safe or comfortable environment for them,” she said. “And I never thought that I would be in a position to say that.”

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“And the reason that is so upsetting is because I love this university, and I love the normalcy that I’ve had here and the experiences that I’ve had. But I think it’s very unfortunate that a lot of Jewish students looking to come to colleges might not choose Ivy League universities because they are concerned for their safety, or they might not want to come to college and have to advocate for their identity every day.”

“They might just want to come and get an education, which they should be entitled to, just like everyone else.”

Fox News Digital’s Aubrie Spady contributed to this report.

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